The Oft-Bypassed Seward, Alaska

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Many who have cruised to Alaska are familiar with Seward as either the embarkation or disembarkation point for most seven-night Alaska cruises that sail to or from Vancouver. If you fly in or out of Alaska, you board a bus for transfer to Seward from the Anchorage airport. Sadly, many tourists pass through Seward, without stopping. If you are taking an Alaska cruise, I urge you to spend a day in Seward either before or after your cruise. If you don’t stop to see what this city has to offer, you are really missing the boat!

Seward is located on the shores of Resurrection Bay, on the east coast of the Kenai Peninsula, approximately 125 miles south of Anchorage, at the foot of 3,000-foot-plus tall Mount Marathon. It offers many recreational opportunities and the bay teams with sea life. It is also the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Resurrection Bay got its name from Alexander Baranof who found shelter there from a storm on the Russian Sunday of the Resurrection in 1791. Seward, of course, was named for William Seward who helped arrange the purchase of the Alaska Territory from Russia in 1867.

Surveyors for the Alaska railroad, which needed an ice-free port to serve as an ocean terminus, officially founded Seward in 1903. The Alaska Railroad facilitated travel between Seward and Fairbanks in the 1920s. You can walk past millionaires’ row to see houses built around 1905 by bankers and railroad officials. Before then, prospectors passed through in the late 1880s on the way to find gold in Hope, Alaska. The Iditarod Trail was used by sled dog teams to transport goods and supplies to towns in the interior and as far as the gold rush town of Nome.

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Photo courtesy of Carol Watts

Kenai Fjords National Park includes mountain fjords, tidewater glaciers, and of course, wildlife. The variety of wildlife includes Stellar sea lions (above), bears, sheep and sea birds including puffins, bald eagles, gulls, murres, kittiwakes, oystercatchers and cormorants.

The Good Friday Earthquake did not spare Seward in 1964. The quake caused tidal waves and fires, destroying much of the town. The Resurrection Bay Historical Museum features photos of the earthquake, as well as artifacts from the Russian era, and Seward’s role in the Iditarod Trail.

Today the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Seward and the corresponding railroad route, are considered to be some of the most scenic routes in the state. Some of the activities in and around Seward are: birding, charter fishing, full or half-day whale watching cruises on Resurrection Bay, flight seeing, hiking, kayaking, river rafting, sled dog kennel tours and rides.

One of the main attractions is the Alaska Sea Life Center, where you can see marine wildlife at a leisurely pace. The center is the only facility in the world dedicated to the study of northern marine wildlife. Its construction was funded in part by the Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement. Many programs cover public education, rehabilitation, and conservation for marine life and sea birds. The center is open daily summer and winter, and has several “touch tanks” for getting up close and personal with marine wildlife.

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Photo courtesy of Carol Watts

The waters teem with sea otters, porpoise, orcas, humpbacks, salmon and halibut.

Kenai Fjords National Park covers approximately 1,700 square miles, and includes the Harding Ice Field. At 300 square miles, it is one of the largest ice fields in the U.S. Harding Ice Field is the source of 38 glaciers, of which Bear Glacier is the largest. The national park includes mountain fjords, tidewater glaciers, and of course, wildlife. Bears and sheep can be seen on land, and the rocky coast provides haul outs for Stellar sea lions. Rookeries for sea birds abound, including puffins, bald eagles, gulls, murres, kittiwakes, oystercatchers and cormorants. The waters teem with sea otters, porpoise, orcas, humpbacks, salmon and halibut. Cruises in the national park range from five to 10 hours, and some are accompanied by park rangers.

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Photo courtesy of Carol Watts

The Alaska Sea Life Center is the only facility in the world dedicated to the study of northern marine wildlife.

One part of the Kenai Fjords National Park can be reached by road. Exit Glacier is 8 miles north of Seward, and is a retreating glacier and you can actually hike to its face. Signs along the way testify to the reach that the glacier once had. There are several trails to choose from, a 1/2-mile, a 1-mile, and a challenging 7.7-mile with steep elevation. This is bear country. The trails are thick with salmonberry bushes, a favorite with bears. Kenai Fjords is home to both black and brown bears, although the black bears are much more common — and supposedly more timid. Both species will avoid human contact, unless they are protecting their cubs or a kill. Take precautions, and above all, do not feed the bears. They will lose their fear of humans as they seek more food handouts. Eventually people who are protecting themselves or their property will shoot them. As the park service says, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

Alaska cruises, cruise tours and guided or independent land tours are all available from Cruise Port Travel. Some bargain prices still can be had for 2010 vacations. Our office is at 900 W. Driftwood Dr. in Payson, (928) 472-7878 or check out our Web site www.travelpayson.com. Previous Alaska articles can be read in the “blog spot.”

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